Author: Randall Brown
Location: Wynnewood, Pennsylvania
Randall Brown teaches writing at Saint Joseph's University. He is a Pushcart nominee and holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Vermont College and a BA from Tufts University. His stories, poems, and essays have been published widely, with recent work appearing or forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Connecticut Review, The Saint Ann's Review, Dalhousie Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Vestal Review, Cairn, King's English, and others. He has recently finished a collection of (very) short fiction, Mad To Live.
Mr. Brown has had the pleasure of working closely with writers
Douglas Glover, Abby Frucht, Nance Van Winckel, Terri-Brown
Davidson, Ellen Lesser, and Pamela Painter. He's a supporter of a number
of literary journals, including Night Train, London Magazine, Zoetrope All-Story, Crazyhorse, and others.
The Too Rough Fingers of the World
You want vulnerability? Give a class of juniors the Langston Hughes’ poem "The Dream Keeper." Set up an African mask from the Survivor set you bought at a charity auction for pediatric AIDS. Let them stand in front of the class and tell the Dream Keeper African mask with crooked teeth their dreams. Watch their feet shuffle. Their bodies bend. Their voices dip down real real low. You have twenty such kids in your class. They insert their poems, drawings, diaries, journals into the Dream Keeper’s mouth. He swallows hard.
"So now what?" Maxine asks. "What are you going to do with them?"
"Well, make sure none of them ever comes true, of course."
"Please, Mr. Brown. Be serious. Just this once."
You’d think they’d dream of free I-Pods, a part in a Green Day video, an Abercrombie shopping spree. You'd think the Dream Keeper would be filled with insubstantial wishes: Make him take me to the Prom, make me handsome and muscular, make me skinny like the girls on TV.
Instead, the Dream Keeper cannot keep their dreams down. He begins to cough them up. Instead of dreams, or even wishes, they've given him questions.
Mr. Charles said I'm odd—and I'm not really—and why can't anyone get me?
Bring me all of your dreams,
He touches me and I flinch—I don't know why—why, can you tell me that? What makes me recoil from touches?
If I come out, they'll be merciless. Where's that hate come from?
Bring me all your
"Oh, Mr. Brown. No. Make it stop. Can't you do anything?"
I know I shouldn't, but I mix her drinks, even bring them to her. What would happen if I didn't? How would I matter to her then?
That I may wrap them
I can't take it anymore. It's too much. But what if death is terrible, too? What then?
In a blue cloud-cloth
I miss him. Why is so much of life unrecoverable?
Away from the too-rough fingers
"Please. Mr. Brown. It's not fair."
Of the world.
Does he love us, does he love us, does he love us?
It's silent then.
"Nothing," Maxine says, "That's what you're going to do? Jeez."
"They're yours," I say. "Not mine."
How still they remain in their seats and how tiny the desks make them, like when their parents come for conferences and sit again in the too-small seats and always, they recall a fractured time from their school days—a run into the first-grade classroom, that shout: "I'm the first kid here," and Miss Betty's stern answer, "I don't see any billy goats."
"Is that really what you feel, Mr. Brown? That they aren't yours?"
Oh, Maxine. What you ask.
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